Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love; stuff that’s essential listening that you’ve probably never heard of; stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. This week, we head to the ever reliable Rhineland for, what else, some serious power metal goodness: Angel Dust's Enlighten the Darkness (Century Media). By the time the new millennium rolled around, Angel Dust had been doing their thing for 15 years – well, give or take a decade break between 1988 and 1998. At any rate, they started like pretty much every other German power metal band: as a thrash band. That didn't really work out for them, so after their second album, 1988's To Dust You Will Decay, they threw in the towel. But let's face it – you can't keep true metal warriors down. They reformed in the mid-90s and came back with 1998's surprisingly excellent Border of Reality. Only this time, they were rockin' like Wacken.
Taking their cue from their countrymen in Rage and Blind Guardian – in addition to notable American acts like Iced Earth – Angel Dust developed their own, brawnier version of the power metal attack. Their roots are definitely in thrash, heavy thrash, not the neoclassical base a lot of other power guys use. Even the keyboards, while prevalent, take a more idiosyncratic tack than the usual frilly flourishes. They eschew the monotonous double speed drumming found in the bulk of the genre. Instead, the drums work with the feeling that the song is trying to impart. Imagine that! Dirk Thurisch belts out his stories with passion and intensity instead of just trying to hit the highest note that he can. Instead of the usual fantasy tropes, they tackle darker themes, darker emotions. Real world stories. In fact, the pinnacle of their second act, 2000's Enlighten the Darkness, is a semi-conceptual piece about the rise of Nazi-ism.
Starting with the thunderous, despairing plea of "Let Me Live," Enlighten hits the listener with memorable song after memorable song. "The One You Are" matches Symphony X for complexity, both musically and emotionally. "Enjoy" has a "Metal Gods" march, but the gods are Roman and the metal is a sword. "Fly Away" and "Beneath the Silence" brings the balladry, while "Come into Resistance" has 80s sci-fi movie synthesizers and a terrifying message. "I Need You" builds to a devastating crescendo, while "Cross of Hatred" kicks the door in immediately. "Oceans of Tomorrow" ends things on a downer note lyrically, but a hopeful note musically.
While really, any of their post-reunion records are worth checking out, Enlighten the Darkness hits all the right buttons the most consistently. They did one more record after this, and then took another decade off and self-released another record in 2011 – but that one didn't make much of a splash either. It's a shame that they were never big enough to get the push that they deserved, especially considering the popularity of bands like Kamelot that aren't nearly as good. Still – and here comes the obvious joke – you should really enlighten your own darkness with this album.